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Mind Your Business: Why Looks Matter


With so much going on in Washington last week, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it was the snarky “did he or didn’t he” debate over President Barack Obama’s seemingly darker ‘do that captured my attention.

I wasn’t so much interested in whether the commander in chief had actually spiffed up his Nobel Prize-winning noggin with a cosmetic “shellacking” as I was with the idea that leaders, in general, can’t minimize the importance of their appearance.

While beauty may only be skin deep, in business, looks count.

Figuring out how to cultivate your look to coincide with your business goals comes down to focusing on three things: your brand, your customers and you.

Be your brand

I have a friend who owns the New Jersey chapter of a national franchise. This franchise has a particularly recognizable name and its franchise owners tend to “live the brand .” For my friend, that means wearing it.

Whether it’s T-shirts, fleeces, baseball caps or his winter coat, there’s nothing this guy owns that doesn’t have his company logo on it. With the exception of his own engagement dinner, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without his branded apparel.

For him, it works. It sends the message that he believes in what he does. Even when he’s not working, he’s marketing himself. His willingness to incorporate his corporate brand into his noncorporate life tells people he’s serious about his business.  That makes them serious about it, too.

Wearing your brand works particularly well if your company relies heavily on its name and name recognition. It sends a message of commitment to the organization, the product and what the brand stands for.

Be your customer

Sometimes, when it comes to dressing the part, less is more.

Take Steve Jobs’ ever-present black turtleneck, for example. I’d argue that it isn’t a fashion choice so much as a corporate strategy. Apple, after all, has long been the darling of artists and musicians. And, what could be more artsy than a black turtleneck and a pair of wireless round glasses?

Let Bill Gates woo the corporate types with his suits and his collared shirts. Jobs has an entirely different image to uphold. His look embodies Apple’s image as a cutting edge, nonconformist, free-thinking kind of company.

It appeals to the inner artist in all of us. Or, at least the hundred million or so of us who own an iProduct of some sort.

The difference between Jobs’ look and that of a logo-wearing corporate man is that Jobs is reflecting the way customers see themselves. While dressing your brand is one way to market your business to the world, dressing as your customer is another.

If you’re selling a lifestyle brand, rather than a service, dressing in a way that depicts who your customer wants to be may be more effective than any embroidered sweatshirt ever will.

Be yourself

Some businesses are really all about selling yourself. Your personality, your skills, your reputation.

For you, fleeces and baseball hats may not be the answer. Very few heart surgery patients, for example, want to be operated on by a guy in a 1-800-GOT-BLOCKAGE? T-shirt. Sometimes, it’s your ability to downplay the fact that you’re actually “in business” that makes you a better sales person.

Furthermore, I doubt a wedding planner in a bridal gown would inspire a lot of confidence in her customers, either. In some cases, your best bet is to be yourself. You, after all, are what you’re selling.

Your brand may be a simple white coat, a bright red apron or trendy pair of skinny jeans. You have to decide which of these things personifies your personal image.

Once you figure it out, stick with it, refine it as you grow and remember to be consistent. Otherwise, your customers – and your critics – will notice. Just ask Obama.

Jeanette Mulvey is the managing editor of BusinessNewsDaily. She has written about small business for more than 20 years and formerly owned her own e-commerce business. Her column, Mind Your Business, appears on Mondays only on BusinessNewsDaily. You can follow her on Twitter at @jeanettebnd or contact her via e-mail at jmulvey@techmedianetwork.com.

Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.